The Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Office may best be known for fighting crime, but now it is working to help the victims of those crimes as well.
The sheriff’s office is collaborating with other local law enforcement agencies to form a Victims Services Unit (VSU) to help ensure victims of traumatic accidents or crimes receive the full attention of professionals to assist them in their time of crisis.
“It’s a Michigan Sheriffs Association program, and it’s been used for several years,” said Charlevoix County Sheriff W. Don Schneider. “Those who are involved are very pleased with it—that’s why we are getting into it.”
According to the Michigan Sheriffs Association, VSU teams perform in a variety of ways, including helping families cope with the loss of a loved one, assisting a victim of a crime, or providing solutions to those in their time of need.
“Victim Services Teams are trained by the Michigan Sheriffs Association and directed by the local sheriffs office in order to provide short-term crisis intervention to victims and their families,” the association states on its website. “Victim Services advocates are caring, compassionate volunteers who are recruited from the community. Representing a broad cross-section of the population, they often have experienced their own personal tragedy and want to help others.”
Advocates undertake a 20-hour training session that involves subjects like the five stages of grief, effective communication techniques, law enforcement protocols and victims rights.
Schneider explained that, during times of crisis, officers must focus on the crime-scene and interviewing witnesses. Thus officers are unable to help the family members who are in shock.
“We’ll be doing training in September, so hopefully we should be up and running by the end of September,” he said. “I’d like to have about 20 (recruits) because they would be on call, so we would like to have about that, give or take.”
According to the Michigan Sheriffs Association, its VSU programs have improved communication between victims and law enforcement, and that, they say, has increased conviction rates in areas that offer the services.
The programs have been around in Michigan since 1988.
To participate in the program as a volunteer, you must fill out an application at www.charlevoixcounty.org/sheriff.asp.
Interviews will begin at the end of August, and the selected volunteers must complete their 20-hour training in September.
To learn more, contact VSU coordinator Sarah Kaminski at the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Office at (231) 547-4461.